Do you put butter in your coffee? (Does this sound crazy to you?) Maybe you do it because it’s delicious and dreamy, but more likely you’ve heard hot buttered coffee will give you sharper thinking superpowers and unlock the magical weight loss gene within.
What the heck am I talking about? Bulletproof coffee, a combination of mycotoxin-free coffee (about 2 cups), 2 tbsp of MCT (medium chain triglycerides) oil, and 1-2 tbsp grass fed butter blended together, which has been a craze since it hit the interwebz in 2009.
Bulletproof coffee was developed by bio-hacker & Bulletproof Executive Dave Asprey. Asprey lost over 100 pounds without dieting and biohacked his way into better sleep and reverse aging using his bulletproof lifestyle: the state of high performance where you take control of and improve your biochemistry. Biohacking echews the traditional old fashioned (and glacially paced) methods of reaching whatever your health goals by using nontoxic food/substances/devices to override your genetic code in order to reach the desired outcome in a swifty manner.
Bulletproof coffee’s collective elements are important. You start with a base of (his recommended expensive) toxin free coffee, because “toxins in cheap coffee steal your mental edge and actually make you weak.” The coffee base is blended together with MCT oil (Asprey calls this brain octane oil), a coconut oil derivative that burns fat and boosts brain energy, and grass fed butter, rich in fatty acids, butyrate, and delicious flavor. The result? “The creamiest, most satisfying cup of coffee you’ve ever had. It will keep you satisfied with level energy for 6 hours,” Asprey claims. It’s designed to replace breakfast and therefore accelerate energy and weight loss.
Bulletproof Coffee Claims
- kills your appetite for 6 hours
- clean burning energy
- no caffeine spikes and crashes
- weight loss/fat burning
- keeps you focused, alert, and keeps your brain fueled for work
Sounds too good to be true, right? That if you skip breakfast in place of this miracle creamy drink, you’ll be smart and skinny? Hold up there. The problem with bulletproof coffee is that coffee doesn’t work well in every system, and similarly, 54 grams of saturated fat in your morning coffee may actually cause inflammation and send your lipids soaring. And Asprey is making some hefty unsubstantiated claims about his beans’ quality.
Should You Ditch Your Bulletproof Coffee?
- Replacing breakfast with bulletproof coffee in the morning robs you of essential macronutrients, namely minerals and protein in favor of pure fat for breakfast. This greatly reduces the nutrient content of your diet. It’s also a form of intermittent fasting (IF), which may yield decent results for men, but take caution if you’re a woman: IF may contribute to endocrine disruption, especially thyroid hormone imbalance and even infertility. Asprey claims that “bulletproof IF” works better for women than just plain IF, but again, it depends on the woman, and it seems to work better for women with a significant amount of weight to lose.
- Coffee has many reported health benefits, BUT about 50 percent of us are slow caffeine metabolizers, and in these folks, coffee can actually raise heart disease risk and contribute t0 inflammation, anxiety, insomnia. Yes, 50 percent.
- Bulletproof coffee has almost 500 calories and over 50 grams of saturated fat, about the same as 12 egg yolks. Now, we know that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease, BUT it’s the dose that makes the poison here. This amount of fat may work fine and even be beneficial for one person, but it may be way too much for another. It’s not license to eat butter with abandon. We don’t really know the effects of eating a great deal of butter daily (combined with added fat from other meals throughout the day), way more than we consumed throughout evolution. SIDE NOTE: I had a menopausal client on the bulletproof coffee train adding 3 tbsp grass fed butter to her coffee, and she couldn’t understand why she was gaining weight. There are many examples of nutrients being beneficial in evolutionarily reasonable amounts but cause harm when we eat too much of them. Fructose is a key example. Even drinking too much water can kill you, for that matter.
- Conventional coffee does contain a lot of pesticides and should always be consumed organic. BUT, there is much debate about the mycotoxins, so it’s up to you to decide if you want to spend $20 on a bag of mycotoxin-free coffee beans. I personally choose organic and am fine with that.
- The biology: MCT oil is not a magic bullet for weight loss (HINT: NOTHING IS). You probably know MCTs are richest in coconut oil, but MCT oil doesn’t exist in nature. It’s basically processed and fractionated. Now, it’s an easy fat to digest and absorb, making it great for those with no gall bladder or for those with GI issues, but it’s not a whole food, and we don’t quite know the longterm effects of consuming larger amounts of MCT oil daily. Studies show it may boost energy and have a modest fat burning effect, but this seems to work better in men than women, and the effect is most pronounced in those who have a lot of weight to lose.
- Regarding butter: butter in large daily quantities is not a magic food for everyone. If you’re upping your butter consumption, I’d encourage you to carefully moderate your lipids, because it can adversely affect blood lipid profile by increasing apolipoprotein B (apo B) levels, a potential to raise the risk for cardiovascular disease. This is especially true from an inflammation perspective if you have a dairy sensitivity you may not be aware of.
- If you’re consuming more fat than your body needs along with too much carbohydrate, you’re doing yourself an extra disservice. When you consume carbohydrate and fat in a surplus, the carbs elevate insulin and inhibit fat burning, so that fat is directly stored, causing fat gain.
Bottom line: There’s not great evidence that bulletproof coffee will make you a superhuman. If you’re monitoring your lipids and glucose levels, and bulletproof coffee is working for you alongside diet and exercise, great. It seems to work better in obese men who have quite a bit of weight to lose or who need to break through a plateau. I still would not recommend drinking it daily instead of breakfast for the rest of your life; use it for a period of time until you reach a goal. You’re depriving yourself of nutrients. And remember it’s not a magic pill, and using it instead of breakfast to lose weight without improving your diet and engaging in some type of exercise may do more harm than good. You must get regular blood work to make sure it’s not causing inflammation or other detrimental effects.
That said, I’ve had bulletproof coffee, and it truly is delicious. I don’t drink much coffee, as I’m one of the 50% who doesn’t handle the caffeine load well. If I do have coffee occasionally, I may blend it with coconut milk and a tablespoon of coconut oil. It sure does yield clean burning energy, and I’ve enjoyed some great workouts after this amended bulletproof coffee. But I know prolonged IF (more than 14 hours) doesn’t work well for me.
So, if you’re losing weight, monitoring your blood work, and you’re feeling great with your bulletproof coffee, go for it until you reach your goal. But remember that it may not work in every system and may actually contribute to inflammation and increase disease risk.
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.